5/1/2005 | 6 MINUTE READ

Insight: Who Suppliers Need to Reach at the OEMs

Facebook Share Icon LinkedIn Share Icon Twitter Share Icon Share by EMail icon Print Icon

In the January issue (http://www.autofieldguide.com/columns/0105insight.html) the five categories of organizational disciplines automotive suppliers need to have in place to be innovation leaders in their niche (alignment, processes, culture, support infrastructure, and measurement) were discussed.


Facebook Share Icon LinkedIn Share Icon Twitter Share Icon Share by EMail icon Print Icon

In the January issue (http://www.autofieldguide.com/columns/0105insight.html) the five categories of organizational disciplines automotive suppliers need to have in place to be innovation leaders in their niche (alignment, processes, culture, support infrastructure, and measurement) were discussed. Continuing in that vein, it is important to know that a key part of effective innovation and new product development processes for suppliers is the creation of systems for listening to the "voice of the customer"—both industrial customers (those who buy your products) and end user customers (those who buy the cars your product goes into).

THE OEM WHO'S WHO. Most suppliers (especially those who have not positioned themselves as "systems integrators") still think primarily about the Purchasing function when you mention the "voice of the industrial customer." This is natural since Purchasing it is where their primary points of contact are, who ultimately determines whether they get a contract, and what price is paid for it. Companies who want to be positioned as innovators, however, need a much broader conception of who the OEM customer is: It is not restricted to just one function but to many audiences within the organization. Contracts are a result of the ability to manage the complex orchestration of these many points of view. Each OEM customer voice plays a different kind of role in the product development process, and needs to be handled in a slightly different way. Let's take a look at each one, in the general order of sequence in which they become engaged in a vehicle development program.



The Marketing staff is responsible for defining the target segment for the vehicle; doing research on consumer demographics; and understanding the needs and pref-erences of the targeted segment group. This is an important audience for innovative suppliers to get to know, in order to understand the customer's view of their end user. Relationships can be developed with Marketing by doing end-user research and thereby adding to its knowledge base.


Design Studios

The Design Studios are responsible for defining overall vehicle styling, including the development of the "clay body." There are typically two different categories of Design Studios—"corporate" studios that do advanced concept car development, and the design studios that are specific to vehicle brands. If your product affects the look and styling of the vehicle, it is critical that you build relationships with both levels of designers. Remember that Design Studios are populated by industrial designers, not engineers. They relate to a language of aesthetics, ergonomics, style and artistry—not the language of function, performance, and quality. To connect with designers, you have to translate manufacturing capabilities into their ability to increase design flexibility and options (which is another compelling argument for having industrial designers in your own company).


Product Planning

Product Planning has responsibility for defining the "feature package" for the vehicle; for product life-cycle planning; and for overall feature & vehicle pricing. Since product planners typically have responsibility for more than one generation of a vehicle, they are interested in modular technology that allows evolution of a vehicle's feature package over several generations of design, without changing the fundamental underlying architecture. For product-oriented innovators, one can argue that Product Planning is the most important OEM audience to cultivate.


Advanced Engineering

Advanced Engineering is responsible for developing the performance specifications for major systems and components. It is these specifications in turn that will drive the RFQ requirements. A new product idea that utilizes novel engineering or technology, needs to be validated in advance by Advanced Engineering. The ideal situation, of course, is for Advanced Engineering to specify performance parameters that can only be achieved cost-effectively with technology that you own.


Product Engineering

Product Engineering is responsible for interacting with suppliers during and after the RFQ process. A supplier's primary point of interaction with Product Engineering will be around APQP processes and requirements.


Corporate Purchasing

Corporate Purchasing is typically focused on maximizing efficiency of the system/component design and associated supply chains across vehicle platforms and brands. They are seeking component modularity that has applicability to multiple vehicle styles, while reducing overall costs. (There is an ongoing tension between corporate purchasing and platform purchasing that suppliers need to be sensitive to.)


Platform Purchasing

This is the level of OEM "voice of the customer" that most suppliers are used to interacting with. The fact is, however, that once you're at this level, the vast majority of the key decisions have already been made, and the primary negotiation is about price, not about innovation.



Suppliers who understand the concerns of Manufacturing, and collaborate with them on their Design for Manufacturability (DFM) strategies, can have an extra advantage in the sales process.

HOW TO ORCHESTRATE RELATIONSHIPS. As can be seen from the chart on p. 18, the range of relationships an innovator needs to manage within the OEM customer base outside of traditional purchasing is extensive and complex. There are several keys to orchestrating these relationships to position your company as a successful and profitable innovator.

  • Build a detailed database of contacts in each category at each OEM. There is no public data source that identifies the key decision-makers in each function. This requires disciplined knowledge management in your company (what we refer to as "industrial anthropology"). Every OEM is organized differently, and they change their structures frequently. In particular, you need to figure out which functions are "core"—organized outside of the platform/brand organizations—and which are in the vehicle groups.
  • Map the contacts by subsystem for each of your key product groups. In addition to mapping across the organizational groups, you also have to map your products to the functional/system groups, such as Chassis, Powertrain, Interior, Electronics, NVH, etc.
  • Clearly define responsibilities. Make sure you clearly differentiate responsibilities in your company for the different levels of contact at the OEM. In particular, be clear about where the dividing line is between advanced development/new product development and your sales and applications engineering staff. Integrate your maps of customer contacts and your innovation strategies in detailed key account plans.
  • Understand their problems before offering your solutions. Suppliers often spend too much time "selling" and not enough time listening. While it is critical to provide product/engineering leadership, you need to start with a detailed understanding about what problems your customer is trying to solve.
  • Control your intellectual property with a vengeance. Every conversation with your OEM customers is an opportunity to lose intellectual property. Only reveal innovations after you have a protection strategy. Don't trust anyone!
  • Tune your message to the audience. Finally, make sure your "messages" are differentiated by the type of OEM audience. Remember, we only hear what we are ready to hear. 


OEM AudienceRoleWhat They Care AboutHow to Best Connect With Them
MarketingConsumer segmentation and researchWho the target buyer is and what they care aboutBring them valuable end user research
Design StudiosOverall vehicle stylingAesthetics, image, ergonomics, emotion appealBring them product innovations that broaden their range of styling options.
Product PlanningProduct life-cycle planning at the platform levelMulti-generational feature evolution and the "price package"Bring them product innovations that allow them to increase vehicle features at reduces costs over multiple model years.
Advanced EngineeringSystem, sub-system and component engineering specificationsProduct performance and reliabilityBring them innovations that push the "performance envelope" of your products
Product EngineeringDetailed specificationsPerformance & priceManage a highly disciplined APQP process
Corporate PurchasingPurchasing of components that are used across platforms and divisionsReducing product costs through communicatin of components and systemsHelp them figure out how to commonize parts without adding unnesessary risk
Platform PurchasingSelect SuppliersPriceInnovate for cost reduction
ManufacturingBuild the productManufacturabilityEngage them in your Design for Manufacturability process